Catalonia and the Right to Self-Determination as a European Matter

Sovereign States have always been reluctant to recognize wide interpretations of the right to the self-determination: they see in them a dangerous thread against their own political unity. That may explain why even international law provisions such as article 1.1 of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights declares that ‘all peoples’ have the right to self-determination States have usually limited the scope of such right to the decolonization processes developed mostly in Asia and Africa after the Second World War. The present paper argues, in a different vein, that the recognition of the right to external self-determination encompasses other cases beyond the decolonization processes. It explores the path taken by some prominent international law scholars such as Antonio Cassese according to whom the right to external self-determination might emerge once the accommodation of a particular national people within a larger sovereign state is frustrated. In other words: the right to external self-determination, even within the context of a constitutional democracy (or precisely because of that) may appear when a State’s internal processes of decision-making do not allow the peoples concerned to decide on their own political status. The paper explores to what extent such doctrine (also grounded in some opinions of the International Court of Justice) might be applicable to the Catalans’ present situation considering both that the holding of a referendum on secession is severely repressed by the Spanish constitutional system and that Catalan’s independence is supported by a large majority of the Catalan citizenry as elections to the Catalan Parliament have continuously revealed.